Handicapping the Oscar race this early is like trying to predict the Kentucky Derby before the colts are born. There are a ton of movies coming out in October, including The Social Network, one of the early favorites for the big awards next spring.
A horror movie released at the beginning of October and not the end = a bad horror movie. A movie left on the shelf for four years = a bad movie. So Case 39 really has nothing going for it. Renee Zellweger stars as a social worker assigned to a case involving a child (Twilight: Eclipse’s Jodelle Ferland) who is in an abusive home. Brad Lee Cooper (if you don’t get that reference, we’re not friends) also stars as a guy who gets eaten by locusts or something. I don’t care, you shouldn’t care, and we’ll all go see something else this weekend.
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 – What has less chance than a snowball in hell? I mean, did you actually think…?
Did you understand exactly what went on with that Jack Abramoff character? Me neither. Let this movie explain it to you. Or at least let it explain an approximation of what happened to you. Kevin Spacey stars as the disgraced and disgraceful Abramoff—this douche ripped off millions of dollars from American Indian tribes like they have so much to just give away (fuck you, paleface!)—and Kelly Preston is in as his wife, Pam. Rachelle Lefevre (Twilight, Barney’s Version), Jon Lovitz, Eric Schweig (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, The Last of the Mohicans) and Barry Pepper (We Were Soldiers) also star.
Oscar Hopefulness: 5 – 50/50 split. Spacey’s face is on the poster but it’s Pepper everyone is raving about. Over the last dozen years, Berry Pepper has quietly given amazing character performance after amazing character performance. This guy is a chameleon, virtually unrecognizable role to role. Popular with critics’ guilds, this may finally be the year the Academy recognizes Barry Pepper.
Despite strong reviews and a solid showing at Sundance last January, Douchebag has fallen through the cracks. It’s one of those quirky indie comedies that usually bust out of the festival scene each year. This year, however, is all about the drama, so Douchebag is yet another movie lost in the shuffle. Sam (Andrew Dickler, whose only other acting credit is A Mighty Wind but who is an editor by trade) skips out days before his wedding to help his little brother, Tom (Ben York Jones, nothing you’ve seen), find his fifth-grade crush. I wanted to see this back when it screened at Sundance, but given my general brokeness and the number of movies with actual Oscar hopes I will need to see, Douchebag is already in my Netflix queue.
Oscar Hopefulness: 3 – Maybe next time, kid. Director Drake Doremus (Spooner) is pretty talented and the industry has definitely noticed, but if he has any chance at all it’s for the script, co-written with Dickler. Still, that chance is very very slim.
Though the competition in the Best Documentary (Feature) category will be unusually tough this year, Freakonomics is an early favorite, along with Inside Man and Waiting for “Superman”. Based on the popular book by economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics is Levitt’s idea that the principles of economics can be used to show connections between events and circumstances to reveal larger sociological phenomena, such as how a drug-dealing gang functions essentially the same as McDonald’s corporate structure. The documentary is a tag-team effort from six documentarians: Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp), Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side), Seth Gordon (The King of Kong: A fistful of quarters), Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight), and Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me). Freakonomics is a fancy enough idea so I don’t think it needs the gimmick of six competing narratives from different filmmakers. Each documentarian tackles a segment from the book, but I wonder if the idea wouldn’t be better served by one narrative voice rather than six. Still, Freakonomics looks pretty entertaining and it’s the kind of idea that could use some visual cues to help explain it.
Oscar Hopefulness: 6 — Bride at a $99 dress sale. Freakonomics has some of the most popular names in documentary filmmaking behind it, but I still like Inside Man for the win better. Competition is stiff this year, and since Inside Man delves into the financial meltdown that is defining the decade, it has the advantage of both timeliness and an outraged public behind it. Freakonomics is the lightweight in a year of heavy hitters.
Let Me In
I still say this remake of the 2008 Swedish import Let the Right One In is unnecessary since Let the Right One In is SO good, but that being said, Americans hate to read their movies so an English remake was as inevitable as it is unnecessary. Directed and written for English audiences by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), Let Me In stars Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) as the frequently-bullied Owen, the boy who befriends vampire child Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz, Kick-Ass). Cara Buono (Mad Men), Elias Koteas (lately of Shutter Island) and the fantabulous Richard Jenkins (Eat Pray Love, Burn After Reading) star as the adults surrounding these disenfranchised children. As down on this remake as I was, I have revised my opinion upward after the trailer debuted. It looks like the remake has translated the moodiness and mystery of the Swedish original. Let Me In may be unnecessary, but it may well be good, too.
Oscar Hopefulness: 4 — Ugly mutt at the pound. SOMEBODY GIVE RICHARD JENKINS AN OSCAR. No seriously, the odds of pulling a major nomination are pretty slim, but some the technical/artistic categories may be doable. The best shot Let Me In has is a pity nod because the Academy so egregiously overlooked Let the Right One In for the 2008 award cycle.
The Social Network
This is another of those movies everyone is on about, like The Town. Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland, Zombieland) stars as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and it’s pretty much the perfect part for Eisenberg. More than the loveable losers with puppy dog eyes Eisenberg has played to date, Zuckerberg is a complicated, difficult persona and Eisenberg’s performance is being widely lauded. Early reviews for The Social Network have been insanely good, and I sincerely hope it lives up to the hype. As a fan of Eisenberg, director David Fincher, and people who drop out of Harvard, this is the movie I can’t wait to see.
Oscar Hopefulness: 10 – Drunk cheerleader on prom night. A Best Actor nomination for Eisenberg seems like a sure thing and many people are citing Andrew Garfield’s performance as the unlikely-named Eduardo Saverin as a scene-stealer. If he can avoid splitting his vote (he is also in Never Let Me Go), he could see his way to a Best Supporting nod. David Fincher for direction, Aaron Sorkin for Best Adaptation and a Best Picture nomination are all solid bets. There is a LOT of buzz that this is the movie to win the big one.
So this horror movie is built on the premise of a murderer whose victims all failed to pass on an email chain letter. I would actually find it much more believable if the murderer was killing everyone who forwarded him chain letters, instead. Starring Nikki Reed (The Twilight Saga), the criminally misused Noah Segan (Brick), and a bunch of people you’ve never heard of.
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 – You’ll shoot your eye out. I wonder how good a horror movie would have to be to get major nominations these days.
I Spit on Your Grave
This is such a graphic, aggressive title. It’s a graphic, aggressive movie, a remake of a 1978 horror flick called Day of the Woman. Horror audiences are going nuts for this movie but it’s torture porn. Dress it up how you want, talk about the “great performances” all day long–it’s torture porn. I have no stomach for these movies. No matter how “epic” the revenge the woman exacts in the end, getting to that so-called triumphant moment involves watching that same woman be brutalized first. And I Spit on Your Grave visits the worst of those brutalities on the audience. There is nothing about gang rape that I find entertaining, so no thanks.
Oscar Hopefulness: -5 — Bitch, please.
Matt Damon narrates Charles Ferguson’s documentary that examines the 2008 financial collapse. Critics have responded well to Inside Job but festival audiences have been a little more divided. Generally held up as entertaining, impartial (it’s easy to be impartial when everyone on the planet hates the same people), and thorough, the emotional impact seems to be striking some people while leaving others cold. That could be because some are looking to Inside Job to justify their anger, when really it’s a methodical examination of what went wrong in 2008. There are plenty of valid targets for that anger, but how you respond to Inside Job seems to depend on your state of mind going into it.
Oscar Hopefulness: 9 — Fat dude at a cake convention. In the Best Documentary (Feature) category, this is the one to beat.
Life As We Know It
Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel star in a movie about a non-couple couple (you know, they hate each other so much it’s inevitable that they hook up) inheriting a baby from their dead friends. It’s not so much the story I’m objecting to as it is the presence of Heigl. Pass.
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 – Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. Heigl wishes.
The smuthounds among us will know this as the movie that brought Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass) and artist/filmmaker Sam Taylor-Wood together. If you aren’t into the gossip, Johnson was nineteen when he began a relationship with the forty-two-year-old Taylor-Wood. They have a daughter now and we all obsess over them. Anywho, Nowhere Boy is a biopic of the young John Lennon (Johnson, doing a credible accent), especially his relationship with his biological mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff, The Last Station) and his aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas). Musically, it covers the period when Lennon formed The Quarrymen and they became The Beatles. Though the acting is fine, the movie is only so-so.
Oscar Hopefulness: 3 – A ray of sunshine on an overcast day. The movie isn’t strong enough to separate itself from the overgrown crop of dramas this year, and the fact it’s taken a year to cross the pond isn’t helping. Especially since everyone is all over The King’s Speech and Never Let Me Go. We have plenty of in-year British imports, thank you.
The marketing campaign for this movie has been disappointing me left and right. Secretariat’s story is such an easy sell, yet Disney insists on mucking it up. He’s the most famous horse in thoroughbred racing (in America, anyway), a Triple Crown winner who still holds track records in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes today. People argue if race horses know what’s going but I say they do. They absolutely do. They’re competitive or lazy just like people. Secretariat was not only a born athlete (despite the line the movie, he was a physical freak, big even in an age when race horses were bred bigger) but a natural competitor. He hated to lose and the way he ran races—it’s like he really liked to let the others think they could win before he opened up and mowed them down. The trailer depresses me (because it’s bad) so I have included the video of Secretariat’s huge win for the Triple Crown at Belmont in 1973.
Oscar Hopefulness: 5 – Even money. Because The Blind Side set a bad precedent last year (mediocre but heartwarming movies winning major awards) I can’t count out Secretariat. Plus Disney is throwing the full weight of their machine behind the movie and its stars: Diane Lane and John Malkovich.
Edward Norton in cornrows! Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about Stone. Prisoner and arsonist Stone (Norton) uses his wife (Milla Jovovich) to manipulate his parole officer (Robert DeNiro). Early word made much of Norton’s startling physical transformation–he garnered similar notice for American History X–but the matchup between DeNiro and Norton is what intrigues me the most. Cross-generational greats engaging in a battle of wits and will, one on the inside, the other on the outside–it’s like an acting boxing match.
Oscar Hopefulness: 6 — Mercury rising. Buzz is pretty mellow right now, but with Norton undergoing an extreme makeover and DeNiro in something not called “Fockers”, you have to think there’s a decent chance of someone getting noticed here. Right now the two categories with the most competition are Best Documentary (Feature) and Best Actor, so campaigning will make a difference this year. Even if the buzz builds, I’m not sure either of these guys would do the amount of pushing required to separate from the pack.
A surgically enhanced ugly-duckling-turned-swan returns to her childhood home in the English countryside as said home is about to be sold. The now-raving beauty sets a small town abuzz with her sexy city ways. Gemma Arterton (Prince of Persia: Sands of time) stars along with Roger Allam (The Queen), Luke Evans (Clash of the Titans), and Dominic Cooper (An Education) in the adaptation of a graphic novel based on Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, of all things.
Oscar Hopefulness: 2 — Down to your last five dollars. This was supposed to be Arterton’s big breakout, but it isn’t getting much attention Stateside. And in a year where several English ladies have turned in top-notch dramatic performances (Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go but Sally Hawkins is the sleeper with Made in Dagenham), Arterton’s turn, albeit very nice, in a modern comedy of manners isn’t going to get much traction.
Never heard of it, never heard of anyone starring in it and the synopsis (young woman watches a mysterious DVD and regrets it) sounds an awful lot like The Ring. And it’s a pre-Halloween weekend horror release, which means it probably can’t stand up to the stronger competition of Halloween weekend.
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 – No hope a’tall. Are you seeing a pattern yet?
Hilary Swank is gunning for her third Best Actress Oscar by playing Betty Anne Waters, a working-class mother who goes to law school so she can represent her wrongfully-convicted brother. This is not the kind of movie I like to see (everyone is miserable and lonely), but it’s directed by Tony Goldwyn, whom I adore. You may remember him as the bad guy in Ghost, but he’s a prolific television director (Dexter, Justified, Damages, and Grey’s Anatomy are among his credits) as well as a features guy with A Walk on the Moon and The Last Kiss on his resume. Conviction is his best features project to date and I want it to succeed just for his sake.
Oscar Hopefulness: 4 – Not quite dead yet. Goldwyn won’t get anything for himself, because though he is the better actor’s director, Ben Affleck is flashier and has the weight of a box office hit behind him. Acting awards, however, are a much better shot. I don’t think Swank gets nominated for this, but Sam Rockwell has been generating some buzz. He’d go in Best Supporting and given how egregiously overlooked he was for Moon, the makeup noms are coming.
The gang’s all here: Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O, Wee Man, and all the ones you can’t name. Kick to the groin humor is always funny to me so I get a lot of mileage out of the Jackass franchise.
Oscar Hopefulness: -3 — Better luck next time. I wish they would nominate this for something like Sound Editing just to see who shows up to represent it.
I would rather see Red than any of the other “comedies” coming out in October. Starring Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Mary-Louise Parker, Red is about a group of retired CIA spooks who band together to figure out who’s trying to kill them. Casting Mirren as a gun-toting assassin in pearls was a stroke of genius and Summit Entertainment is probably looking at their biggest non-Twilight hit to date.
Oscar Hopefulness: 2 – Severe thunderstorms possible. I’m giving Red a 2 simply because of the caliber of actors in the movie, not because I think there’s any realistic chance of an Academy nomination happening.
The Company Men
While the cast is solid (Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Maria Bello, Chris Cooper, Craig T. Nelson, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Kevin Costner), this movie is about three guys trying to keep it together after losing their jobs. If I want to hear about people clawing and biting to keep it together and living on tenterhooks, I’ll just talk to ANYONE ON THE STREET. There’s timely, and then there’s “this is just exactly like my real life which is depressing enough already”.
Oscar Hopefulness: 5 – Seafood special. I can’t count it out because of the cast and because sometimes the Academy can be incredibly tone deaf to public sentiment. A movie like this, you never know how they’ll embrace it.
This one has me intrigued. The trailer is very good, very…intriguing. Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Matt Damon, Bryce Dallas Howard, Cecile de France (prolific French actress) and a little English kid I can’t place, it’s about a psychic medium (Damon) who has retired from public life but can’t escape the dead and the grieving. The kid and de France are involved in tragedies (the trailer references the tsunami and the London subway bombings) and psychic George has a tragic past, too. Eastwood can be a pretty damn depressing director when he tries, but I like his movies anyway. I’m sold on Hereafter.
Oscar Hopefulness: 8 – Dude, it’s Clint Eastwood. Someone’s getting nominated for something.
Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur put together this film starring Diane Kruger (Inglorious Basterds), Dermott Mulroney, Rosanna Arquette, and Sam Shepard (Brothers and this year’s Fair Game) about a couple trying to get a lung transplant for their sick daughter. Another drama to add to the pile.
Oscar Hopefulness: 3 – Despite a good cast and an International Director of Note, this is yet another drama that won’t be able to stand apart from the splashier releases.
Paranormal Activity 2
At this point we all know the gimmick behind Paranormal Activity so I’m not sure why Paramount bothered with a sequel. There were those whispers of a threatened lawsuit since Paramount, who made nearly $200 million on Paranormal Activity, never saw fit to share any of that money with the actors who barely got paid for the original. Those lawsuit rumors went away as soon as Paramount announced the sequel, though. Just saying.
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 – Up a creek. If any of the “maybe real but probably fake” movies has a shot this year, it isn’t Paranormal Activity 2.
The collection of obligatory Halloween horror movies
Actually, My Soul to Take may have moved to 10/8, but I don’t really care. The only one of these I’m at all interested in is Monsters, about a post-alien invasion world in which an American tourist attempts to cross the “infected zone” that Mexico has become to return to the US. Saw 3D is entirely unnecessary and falls into the category of “unpleasant and unwatchable torture porn”, while The Howling: Reborn is meant to appeal to a group of fanboys I don’t belong to.
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 across the board – Hope does not float. Monsters has been receiving generally positive notice but none of these movies stand a chance come next March.
Welcome to the Rileys
James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo are “Doug” and “Lois Riley”, a couple devastated by the death of their daughter. After an affair “Doug” conducted ends, he heads to New Orleans on a business trip and meets “Mallory” (Kristen Stewart), a teenaged runaway/stripper/prostitute. “Mallory” reminds “Doug” of his dead daughter and he attempts to care for “Mallory” amid her squalid life. Meanwhile “Lois”, paralyzed by her grief, has become an agoraphobic but leaves the house for the first time in ages to follow after “Doug”. It’s another of those human dramas about lonely, miserable people, but it stars three actors I enjoy. Rileys has played at festivals to mixed reviews; the acting is admired but the film itself doesn’t garner as much praise. It kills me that this movie isn’t going to get any more attention than it is, but in a fall crowded with dramas, Rileys is being overwhelmed by bigger, flashier competition. It doesn’t help that Stewart, who comes with a ready-made audience, won’t be available for much press since she has scheduling conflicts with Twilight: Breaking Dawn rehearsals.
Oscar Hopefulness: 3 – Shark vs. killer whale scenario. I can’t count it out entirely because the Academy likes these actors, but the prognosis is not good. After the original distributor, Apparition, melted down this past summer, Rileys was placed with Samuel Goldwyn Films, who is disinclined to campaign for this film. And these actors, they won’t campaign for themselves, either. So there isn’t going to be much of a push, and with so many splashy dramatic performances this year, Gandolfini, Leo and Stewart are just more faces in an already large crowd. Leo, in fact, is being aggressively campaigned by Paramount for The Fighter and they won’t want to risk splitting her vote.
Bad title, bad film. Another British import, this one–a comedy–stars sexy beast Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, and Rupert Grint (aka Ron Weasley) in a movie about a hitman attempting to retire but drawn back into the game by a comely thief. Let’s put aside that premise (it’s adapted from a French farce and it just proves that no one does concept-farce as well as the French) and deal with the fact that we’re supposed to find Nighy and Blunt sexy in a will-they-or-won’t-they fashion. I love Nighy, and there’s no denying he’s a sexy beast, but I don’t want to see him getting it on with someone half his age, either. It didn’t work for Sean Connery, it won’t work for Nighy (see also: Entrapment).
Oscar Hopefulness: 0 — A nihilist’s shot at happiness. Oh please. As if.